Anthony Weiner is back in the news, and yet again, it's for all the wrong reasons.
On Sunday, brand-new reports emerged of him being involved in a fresh sexting scandal – this time, it appears he sent a photo that included his sleeping son to another woman. On Monday, Mr. Weiner's wife, Huma Abedin, a close aide to Hillary Clinton, announced she would separate from him.
Explicit texts have already cost Mr. Weiner his job in Congress in 2011 and forced him to resign from a New York City mayoralty run in 2013. So what would lead him to continue engaging in this risky, hurtful and damaging behaviour?
Compulsive personality? Immaturity? Or some sort of sexual disorder? It's impossible to know what motivates Mr. Weiner. But his case highlights a controversial area that is still not well understood, even by the research community: hypersexual disorder, or what's colloquially known as sex addiction. In 2009, Martin Kafka, an American researcher who treats sex offenders, authored a paper that argued hypersexual disorder should be recognized as a psychiatric disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which is used widely by clinicians to diagnose and treat patients. According to Dr. Kafka, the disorder is characterized by recurrent sexual fantasies, urges and behaviours that interfere with daily life, are a response to a stressful situation and disregard the physical or emotional well-being of self or others, and other problematic behaviour.
Despite this, hypersexual disorder wasn't included in the latest version of the DSM, which was published in 2013.
But Fred Berlin, director of the Sexual Behavior Consultation Unit at Johns Hopkins Medicine, said the label doesn't matter. What's important is that clinicians and the wider public gain a greater understanding that, much like drugs, alcohol, gambling or food, sex is a powerful drive that some people have difficulty controlling.
"There are people that have to struggle harder than others to integrate those powerful needs into an otherwise healthy and productive lifestyle," Dr. Berlin said in an interview. "There are many good people that I've seen clinically who are really struggling and trying to lead a responsible lifestyle."
Too many people still look at this type of a sexual disorder through a moral lens, Dr. Berlin said. Decades ago, alcoholism was seen as a major character flaw and gluttony was considered a sin. Now, as more research has shown that some people truly struggle to keep their urges to drink or eat under control, there is more help and understanding available. The same should happen for those who are struggling with an addiction to sex, he said.
Much like the treatment for other addictions, patients can benefit from group therapy, professional counselling or even prescription medications, Dr. Berlin added.